Italy when no one is there?
November 4, 2009 5:29 AM   Subscribe

Going to Italy at the end of January. Not the most ideal time to take a vacation. We are going to Milan, Tuscany, and Venice. How can two people make the most of it?
posted by parmanparman to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was in Milan in early February and it was excellent. Not a tourist to be seen. Of course all the cultural attractions are still around, as are the residents. What's the concern?
posted by exogenous at 5:43 AM on November 4, 2009

You're going at the best time - you'll have the streets all to yourselves! I have been to Venice and Florence both in February and August - I enjoyed it much more in February. It's colder, sure - but there are very little crowds, lines, and prices aren't gauged up (as much).

I don't know where in Tuscany you're going, but Venice had this mystical otherworldly feel when I went in winter. The best thing to do is wander around the canals, and intentionally get yourself lost. Venice isn't that big so you won't get lost lost, but it's the best way to explore the island, imho :-)
posted by raztaj at 5:48 AM on November 4, 2009

Besides the possibility of "acqua alta" in Venice (strong rains + high tide + southern winds that push waters into the lagoon, flooding the lowest parts of the centre), and snow in Milan if it's a particularly cold spell, with traffic coming to a grinding halt, you'll be fine. If you need specific tips for Tuscany, memail me.
posted by _dario at 5:50 AM on November 4, 2009

"Make the most of it"? You're going to Italy. During a recession. Enjoy what life is offering you and be happy. As others have said, there's no reason that your trip will be somehow lesser than if you'd gone at another time of year.
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:53 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've only been to Italy once, in February. Seeing fountains frozen, the buildings capped with snow made beautiful places even more stunning.

(Sorry no specifics on where you're going, but really, I think it's an excellent time to go)
posted by Coobeastie at 6:01 AM on November 4, 2009

Yeah, concurring with others. In fact, winter is the only time I'd consider going to Venice. Who needs crowds of tourists?

My three favorite things in Italy are:
1. Food
2. Architecture
3. Scenery

Trust me, all three of those things are there in abundance during the Winter and without other tourists getting in your way.

Italy when no one is there?

Who's not there? I can assure you the Italians are still there. Everything is open as usual. Life is happening.
posted by vacapinta at 6:10 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I went to Venice in November and it was cold and rainy and overcast the whole time. It wasn't very enjoyable. February may be better but the idea that the weather doesn't matter seems silly to me. Sure cold and snow is fine but rain is not.
posted by smackfu at 6:15 AM on November 4, 2009

January's actually one of the driest months in the whole year.
posted by vacapinta at 6:28 AM on November 4, 2009

And November is the wettest, by far. Thanks. So I amend my advice: don't go to Venice in November. Sounds like January should be fine.
posted by smackfu at 6:30 AM on November 4, 2009

I went to Venice in early February and it was teeming with tourists. There's nothing odd about visiting there in January. You should do whatever you would have done at any time of year: find a guidebook, look for things that appeal to you, etc.

Since you're going to Tuscany I highly recommend Siena. If you go there, go to the Cathedral -- the most amazing church I saw in Italy (and that includes St. Peter's in Rome).
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:39 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

We went during August (for my birthday) and it was hot and humid. But it did not matter!
What I learned: most people believe Italy makes its money from wine, then olive oil, then tourism. But tourism is number one and so expect people no matter when you go. It does not matter!
posted by Postroad at 7:10 AM on November 4, 2009

I went to Milan, Rome, Venice and Florence in late January a few years ago. It was awesome. One of my favorite memories is of wandering around Venice in a rare snow flurry, through almost completely deserted streets - I practically had the cathedral to myself. No line at cafes, no trouble getting a cheap hotel room, no tour groups anywhere. I felt like the year was 1850 or something. I highly recommend it. I ended up wandering over to the School of the Pieta, which was run centuries ago by Vivaldi and with which I was obsessed as a child. It was like a dream come true to walk there in a snow storm, by the ocean, along those old cobblestone passageways...

You're very lucky!!
posted by Cygnet at 7:10 AM on November 4, 2009

My wife and I stayed in Tuscany for a week over New Year's a few years ago. It was excellent -- no crowds. Rented a car in Florence and stayed with these very nice folks. It was cold, but beautiful. With the car and little traffic we explored all over Tuscany (Sienna in particular was fun) or just walked around the countryside.
posted by lex mercatoria at 7:56 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would recommend a guide book by Lonely Planet. I have always had remarkably good luck with them. Also Google Rick Steve's itineraries, he knows what he is talking about and will steer your in the right direction. By planning your trip you make sure that you are going to hit the high points (based on your interests) while you are there.

Then, while you are there leave time for doing things that aren't in the guidebook or that you hadn't thought of doing beforehand. Ask the locals about out of the way restaurants or off the beaten path things to do. Stay at small places and talk to the proprietors/employees, asking for the suggestions.

I have been to Venice in Dec/Jan and it was perfect.

Also, make sure you have some good walking shoes.
posted by SantosLHalper at 8:16 AM on November 4, 2009

Awesome question. My fiancee and I will hopefully be doing our one year delayed "real" honeymoon in Venice in mid January 2011, so the answers here should be very useful.
posted by kmz at 8:33 AM on November 4, 2009

Like others, I was in Italy last year over Christmas break. One thing to keep in mind: While the temperatures don't look that cold, being outside all day long in 20-40 weather can easily wear on you. I wouldn't wear a parka or anything extreme, but make sure you pack comfortable, yet warm clothes. I found it very convenient to wear a peacoat while traveling. With all the pockets, I was able to keep everything on the inside to avoid having to wear a fanny pack or anything of the sort. Having a hat/gloves/scarf is advisable to not get cold while walking around to see all the sites.
posted by jmd82 at 9:37 AM on November 4, 2009

I was in Italy in February. It was great. I usually take trips in the off season though, so I'm used to colder than normal weather. There were quite a few tourists in February, but nothing compared to the number in the summer. Museums tended to be fairly quiet. We were able to view the David close up without being squished in between people.

Outside of Florence, Tuscany was serene. We could drive from town to town without much trouble. Just looking at the landscape was amazing. We had a mix of weather - some warmish days and some cold, rainy days.

Overall, I would much rather go in the winter when there are fewer tourists. Just seeing the swarms of people in my parents' pictures from when they went in the summer, made me very happy I went in the winter. I would much rather be a little cold than in between mobs of people.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:54 AM on November 4, 2009

How fantastic! First, feel happy, because Italy is always great. My recommendation: rent a car and bring a selection of good guide books and maps to throw in the back seat and consult en route. It is not necessary to make reservations at hotels in advance: you can call ahead on the day of an anticipated stay. It is generally worthwhile to plan ahead for great restaurants. I'd give yourself enough flexibility to take in obvious things like tours of museum and Roman ruins, as well as the great unplanned stuff that just surfaces when you are there like local food markets and gorgeous drives.
posted by bearwife at 10:59 AM on November 4, 2009

Venice will be freezing- especially when you're on the vaporetto. You will be using your map because Venice is a maze. The touristy move of going to Harry's Bar will be a breeze, because there's no one in Venice in January. It's not a ghost town, but it's easier to get around.

You will still have to wait if you go to the Uffizi unless you book a reservation (Florence).
The Duomo is great, but walk across the Arno and up the hill to the Chiesa San Miniato al Monte and check out the view from the front steps. Walking around Florence is a snap. It's tiny.

The touristy move in Milan is going to see The Last Supper. Even in January, you'll need a reservation. Sports fan? On 24 January, it's the Derby della Madonnina. I recommend this. Highly. What a scene. I'll put it this way: I was in Yankee Stadium the night Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in World Series game 6. Witnessing this derby was more memorable.
posted by Zambrano at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2009

The Slow Food movement began in Italy. If you're looking for seasonal, fresh, amazing places to eat, check out their directory of events here.
posted by mdonley at 2:35 PM on November 4, 2009

Response by poster: going in December! Thanks for the advice.
posted by parmanparman at 6:48 PM on September 29, 2010

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